Monday, April 15, 2013

Book Review: Why Loiter? by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan, Shilpa Ranade

Title: Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets
Author: Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan, Shilpa Ranade
Publisher: Penguin India
Pages: 280
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Non Fiction / Urban Studies / Women issues
Rating: 10/10
Format: Paperback

“Why Loiter?” is a transformational book. It suggests that women must fight for the unconditional right to access public space. It is surprising how we, as women, have got so accustomed to justifying our presence in the public space that it is now internalized in our systems. 

If we are waiting for a friend on the road, we would rather wait at the bus stop or fiddle with mobile phones, all to imply that either we are waiting for the bus or busy with some important call or message. Why can’t we loiter? Why can’t we be unapologetic about having fun in public space, and also not judged? Quoting from the book “..when there are visible public attacks on women, the discussions inevitably focus on how the women could have prevented it. Clothing is the first target: its length, width, cut and even colour are debated in the blame game of national sexual politics…”

It is a common perception that ‘Bombay girl’ is having most fun. It is a benchmark for almost all women across India, to live life like a Bombay girl. You really sit up and notice when the authors tell you why they chose Mumbai to offer their arguments: “For if this is the standard of access to public space in the country, then perhaps we lack both ambition and imagination.”

This book “draws on the findings of a three-year-long research project, the Gender and Space project that focused on women and public space in Mumbai to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that despite the apparent visibility of women, even in urban India, women do not share equal access to public space with men.” The problem is women have accepted their marginalization in the public space.

Here are some standout points and thoughts from the book, which may compel you to read it:

  • ‘Loitering’ is considered frivolous. Demonstration of purpose to justify being in public space is important at all times. Even feminists who fight for women’s rights are wary about right to loiter because it will impact the seriousness of their work.
  • Poor infrastructure like lack of or significantly less number of public toilets, toilets which have been insensitively designed and many times closed during nights, poor road lighting, poor transport facilities etc further impacts the usage of public space by women. 
  • Public spaces should be designed to maximize engagement. “One key obstacle in the good design of public spaces is the assumption of a neutral universal user of space….the ‘neutral’ user is usually male.” 
  • Fighting for unconditional right to access public space is a larger issue than focusing on crime against women in public space. Because when you focus on the crime, the access for women is further reduced, women start living a more protected and chaperoned life. Because then people start focusing on why you were there in the first place? With whom? Wearing what? Doing what? The struggle against violence and the quest for pleasure cannot be separate things. 
  • The society is obsessed with controlling women’s movement. But the concern is more about the reputation and family honour rather than their physical safety per se. 
  • Supposedly safe places for women like malls or cafes are really private-public spaces and you need to have a certain consumption power to be able to enjoy that space.
  • In the global vision of the city, women, old people, disabled, poor and people from certain religion do not feature. It raises questions on rights to citizenship. Why should a city be claimed / owned only by a specific group?
  • How we lament flourishing malls and vanishing parks! How our weekends are spent at malls in consumption rather than doing nothing in public spaces. Perhaps that is what global city is all about. Loitering is a threat to that dream global world. You must consume all the time.
  • Then who is having fun? Muslim Girls? Rich Girls? Slum Girls? Working Girls? Night Girls? Can Girls Buy fun? Differently-abled girls? Homosexual Girls? Old Girls? The authors have dissected and concluded that no matter what the social status, economic class, age or orientation, their ‘fun’ is always conditional. Nobody is having unadulterated, pure fun.

Of course, there are many more arguments, well-represented in the book. So, read it.

I highly recommend it to every girl, every woman. Read it, if you can. And why only girls? Everyone should read it. It brings forth a strong argument and thought-provoking perspective. And men should also read it to understand how women in their lives negotiate access to public space on daily basis.

Note: Text in italics has been quoted from the book.

Image source: Penguin India

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Book Review: The Style Diary of a Bollywood Diva by Kareena Kapoor, Rochelle Pinto

Title: The Style Diary of a Bollywood Diva
Author: Kareena Kapoor with Rochelle Pinto
Publisher: Shobhaa De Books (Penguin India)
Pages: 288
Price: Rs 699
Genre: Non Fiction / Style / Fashion / Bollywood
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback (Royal)

Kareena Kapoor, though not really a trend-setter, is almost always well-dressed. I noticed her experimental and interesting styling during the promotions of ‘Heroine’. Earlier, her Manish Malhotra dresses and saris were fashionable but they never stood out. To her credit, she did spark media frenzy for Size Zero because it was too drastic and shocking, considering she was chubby earlier.

The book has high production value (like a coffee table book) with lots of glossy pictures, although I am not such a huge fan of the cover page image of the lady (it looks ghostly/ pallid and not diva-esque). The font size on the back cover is also too big. But the book makes up with lots of gorgeous pictures – old and new, published and unpublished, glamorous and simple. The book also has a lot of doodled drawings which render the feel of a diary. The pages are in shades of pink.

The book has Kareena’s distinct voice and personality – unapologetic, undiplomatic and straightforward. It reminds so much of that line from Jab We Met, which translates to – “I am my biggest fan” and Kareena Kapoor is! It comes out very clearly in this book as well as in all her interviews. She has always been extremely confident, even as a newcomer. The book is chatty, conversational and confiding.

When I first read about this book, I was curious because it was something new. I don’t remember any other Bollywood actress writing about her style secrets. Which girl wouldn't want to know the style secrets of a Bollywood heroine who lives a life of glamour and style, and who is spoilt for choices?

I would say I have mixed views about this book, and whenever I feel that way, I jot down ‘what worked for me’ and ‘what did not’, to be fair to the book and to give an indication to the potential readers on what to expect.

> Tonnes of fabulous pictures – beautiful, glamorous and many from personal collection
> Neatly organized into 4 sections:
  1. Body Basics – Growing up years, Size Zero, diet plan, workouts, Yoga asanas, exercising while you travel, food, etc. 
  2. Fashion Fabulous – her favourite looks from films and how to get them, personal favourites / style, fashion tips, different kinds of clothing, favourite brands and shopping destinations
  3. Beauty Truths – Hair care / skin care / personal beauty tips and tricks, everyday maintenance and grooming, make up, understanding your best profile to look good in pictures 
  4. Man Power – snippets from her love life, making your relationship work, dressing and grooming your man and gifting right to your love
> Snippets from personal life like how she plans her travel, her favourites, her growing up years, her relationships, creating looks for her films, preparing for big events, etc. 

> Repetitiveness, like her favourite destination is Gstaad, she is a winter person, blessed with good skin and so on and so forth
> Exaggeration about sparking trends on how her looks from movies and public events were copied soon after. As far as I am aware, Kareena can take credit for Size zero frenzy and Long kurta with Patiala from the movie Jab We Met (which also was Imtiaz’s idea)
> Digressions from the book’s main topic like planning your wedding (!); detailed information on various types of everything – inner wear, Indian dresses, gowns, shoes, bags; dressing for office (!). 
> A lot of common style and fashion tips 
> Dilution of the main focus of the book : Trying to tell us the behind-the-scene story on Kareena Kapoor’s styling, and her tricks and tips; and also trying to be a fashion guide to a normal girl. The book should have focused on Kareena’s style and her favourites, and not attempt to bring out her ‘normal girl’ side, because there are no parallels between her lifestyle and a normal young girl’s. We cannot buy those brands or designer wears (forget about custom-made) neither can we shop on Net-a-Porter.

Frankly, I don’t know what I was expecting from this book because largely a star is as stylish as her stylist (her stylist, by the way, is Tanya Ghavri).

This book will certainly appeal to Kareena Kapoor's fans. The fashion and style enthusiasts may only end up pointing out the abundance of common information and tips in the book. 

All these fashion gyaan surely made me curious about fashion. I am not too much into fashion and latest trends but surprisingly I follow some fashion blogs, so of late I have started distinguishing designers and new trends. So, yes, this book made me excited about fashion because she is around my age. And celebrity or not, if you don’t experiment now then when? 

Here's an excerpt from the book.

Review Book courtesy: Penguin India
Image source: Amazon

Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Title: The Sense of an Ending
Author: Julian Barnes
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 150
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Literary Fiction 
Rating: 9/10
Format: Paperback

‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes is one of those books which you can read and re-read, and every time discover something new. The joy of a well-written, open-ended book is unparalleled. It is amazing how much is packed into this 150-page, fast-paced work of fiction with a twist at the end (though I got an idea about the twist somewhere towards the middle).

The book is divided into two parts. In part One, Tony Webster, now in his 60s, is trying to recall the memories of his past life. But as he often admits, memory is not always reliable. He says right at the beginning “… what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”

Tony, Alex and Colin formed a clique in school, joined by Adrian later. Adrian was certainly more serious and intelligent than the rest, expected to win a scholarship and do well in life. Now retired, Tony considers his own life ordinary and uneventful – a normal career, single marriage, amicable divorce and cordial relations with his only daughter. In his twilight years, he says almost with regret: “I had wanted life not to bother me too much, and had succeeded - and how pitiful that was.” 

He also talks about his ex-girlfriend Veronica, his attempts to impress her, her sense of superiority, and his memory of their relationship. The author never fails to tease you every now and then about ‘memory’ and ‘history’ – that they are not trustworthy and what we recall from past is just a perception of how things happened, may be selectively remembered.

Where part One takes time to establish Tony’s character and the dullness of his life, part Two is fast-paced till the end. Due to the turn of events, Tony comes in contact with Veronica, and it sparks a slew of memories pertaining to her. Veronica was an unfinished chapter of his life and now, almost 40 years later, he felt drawn to her. May be age and time mellowed him to empathize with her.

She keeps saying to Tony “you just don’t get it”, which some readers may find irritating but I felt her character is quite complex and I would expect her to say something like that without offering explanations.  On one hand this drives the reader to the wall while also creating a sense of urgency to uncover the mystery.   

The best part of the book is of course its writing. Despite its number of pages, the story is never rushed, the characters are leisurely developed, mystery is withheld and rationed out in bits and pieces creating suspense, phrases are delightfully crafted and the warmth of subtle humour makes you break into smiles every now and then. The narrative often gets philosophical but never boring.

Sample these beautifully constructed phrases:

“the small pleasures and large dullnesses of home”

But time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but we were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time...give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.” 

Need I say more? By all means, read it!

Note: I have consciously stayed away from discussing the story, and its twists and turns because reading it without any pre-conceived notions will be much more enjoyable experience, like I had.

Review Book courtesy: MySmartPrice Books - Get the Best Deal on Books!
Image source: Author Website